While Sam struggled to lift Harry up the ladder and into the attic, Tessa and Chrissie took the wheelchair to the basement garage. It was a heavy-duty motorized model, not a light collapsible chair, and would not fit through the trap. Tessa and Chrissie parked it just inside the big garage door, so it looked as if Harry had gotten this far in his chair and had left the house, perhaps in a friend's car.
"You think they'll fall for it?" Chrissie asked worriedly.
"There's a chance," Tessa said.
"Maybe they'll even think Harry left town yesterday before the roadblocks went up."
Tessa agreed, but she knew—and suspected Chrissie knew—that the chance of the ruse working was slim. If Sam and Harry really had been as confident in the attic trick as they pretended, they would have wanted Chrissie to be tucked up there, too, instead of sent out into the storm-lashed, nightmare world of Moonlight Cove.
They rode the elevator back to the third floor, where Sam was just folding the ladder and pushing the trapdoor into place. Moose watched him curiously.
"Five forty-two," Tessa said, checking her watch.
Sam snatched up the closet pole, which he'd had to remove to pull down the trap, and he reinserted it into its braces. "Help me put the clothes back."
Shirts and slacks, still on hangers, had been transferred to the bed. Working together, passing the garments like amateur firemen relaying pails of water, they quickly restored the closet to its former appearance.
Tessa noticed that traces of fresh blood were soaking through the thick gauze bandage on Sam's right wrist. His wounds were pulling open from the exertion. Although they weren't mortal injuries, they must hurt a lot, and anything that weakened or distracted him during the ordeal ahead decreased their chances of success.
Closing the door, Sam said, "God, I hate to leave him there."
"Five forty-six," Tessa reminded him.
While Tessa pulled on a leather jacket, and while Chrissie slipped into a too-large but waterproof blue nylon windbreaker that belonged to Harry, Sam reloaded his revolver. He had used up all the rounds in his pockets while at the Coltranes'. But Harry owned a .45 revolver and a .38 pistol, both of which he had taken with him into the attic, and he had a box of ammunition for each, so Sam had taken a score or so of the .38 cartridges.
Holstering the gun, he went to the telescope and studied the streets that lay west and south toward Central School. "Still lots of activity," he reported.
"Patrols?" Tessa asked.
"But also lots of rain. And fog's coming in faster, thicker."
Thanks to the storm, an early twilight was upon them and already fading. Although some bleak light still burned above the churning clouds, night might as well have fallen, for cloaks of gloom lay over the wet and huddled town.
"Five fifty," Tessa said.
Chrissie said, "If Mr. Talbot's at the top of their list, they could be here any minute."
Turning from the telescope, Sam said, "All right. Let's go."
Tessa and Chrissie followed him out of the bedroom. They took the stairs down to the first floor.
Moose used the elevator.
Shaddack was a child tonight.
Circling repeatedly through Moonlight Cove, from the sea to the hills, from Holliwell Road on the north to Paddock Lane on the south, he could not remember ever having been in a better mood. He altered the patterns of his patrol, largely to be sure that eventually he would cover every block of every street in town; the sight of each house and every citizen on foot in the storm affected him in a way they never had previously, because soon they would be his to do with as he pleased.
He was filled with excitement and anticipation, the likes of which he had not felt since Christmas Eve when he was a young boy. Moonlight Cove was a huge toy, and in a few hours, when midnight struck, when this dark eve ticked over into the holiday, he would be able to have so much fun with his marvelous toy. He would indulge in games which he had long wanted to play but which he had denied himself. Henceforth, no urge or desire would be denied, for despite the bloodiness or outrageousness of whatever game he chose, there would be no referees, no authorities, to penalize him.
And like a child sneaking into a closet to filch coins from his father's coat to buy ice cream, he was so completely transported by contemplation of the rewards that he had virtually forgotten there was a potential for disaster. Minute by minute, the threat of the regressives faded from his awareness. He did not entirely forget about Loman Watkins, but he no longer was able to remember exactly why he had spent the day hiding from the police chief in the garage at the Parkins house.
More than thirty years of unrelenting self-control, strenuous and undeviating application of his mental and physical resources, beginning with the day he had murdered his parents and Runningdeer, thirty years of repressing his needs and desires and of sublimating them in his work, had at last led him to the brink of his dream's realization. He could not doubt. To doubt his mission or worry about its outcome would be to question his sacred destiny and insult the great spirits who had favored him. He was now incapable of even seeing a downside; he turned his mind away from any incipient thought of disaster.
He sensed the great spirits in the storm.
He sensed them moving secretly through his town.
They were there to witness and approve his ascension to the throne of destiny.
He had eaten no cactus candy since the day he had killed his mother, father, and the Indian, but over the years he had been subject to vivid flashbacks. They came upon him unexpectedly. One moment he would be in this world, and the next instant he would be in that other place, the eerie world parallel to this one, where the cactus candy had always conveyed him, a reality in which colors were simultaneously more vivid and more subtle, where every object seemed to have more angles and dimensions than in the ordinary world, where he seemed to be strangely weightless—buoyant as a helium-filled balloon—and where the voices of spirits spoke to him. The flashbacks had been frequent during the year following the murders, striking him about twice a week, then had gradually declined in number—though not in intensity—through his teenage years. Those dreamy, fuguelike spells, which usually lasted an hour or two but could occasionally last half a day, were responsible in part for his reputation, with family and teachers, of being a somewhat detached child. They all had sympathy for him, naturally, because they assumed that whatever detachment he displayed was a result of the shattering trauma that he had endured.
Now, cruising in his van, he was phasing slowly into that cactus-candy condition. This flashback was unexpected, too, but it didn't snap upon him as all the others had. He sort of ... drifted into it, deeper, deeper. And the further he went, the more he suspected that this time he would not be pulled rudely back from that realm of higher consciousness. From now on he would be a resident of both worlds, which was how the great spirits themselves lived, with awareness of both the higher and the lower states of existence. He even began to think that what he was undergoing now, spiritually, was a conversion of his own, a thousand times more profound than that the citizens of Moonlight Cove had undergone.
In this exalted state, everything was special and wondrous to Shaddack. The twinkling lights of the rainswept town seemed like jewels sprinkled through the descending darkness. The molten, silvery beauty of the rain itself astonished him, as did the swiftly dimming, gorgeously turbulent gray sky.
As he braked at the intersection of Paddock Lane and Saddleback Drive, he touched his breast, feeling the telemetry device he wore from a chain around his neck, unable for a moment to remember what it was, and that seemed mysterious and wonderful, as well. Then he recalled that the device monitored and broadcast his heartbeat, which was received by a unit at New Wave. It was effective over a distance of five miles, and worked even when he was indoors. If the reception of his heartbeat was interrupted for more than one minute, Sun was programmed to feed a destruct order, via microwave, to the microsphere computers in all of the New People.
A few minutes later, on Bastenchurry Road, when he touched the device, the memory of its purpose again proved elusive. He sensed that it was a powerful object, that whoever wore it held the lives of others in his hands, and the fantasy-tripping child in him decided that it must be an amulet, bestowed upon him by the great spirits, one more sign that he stood astride the two worlds, one foot in the ordinary plane of ordinary men and one foot in the higher realm of the great spirits, the gods of the cactus candy.
His slowly phased-in flashback, like time-released medication, had carried him back into the condition of his youth, at least to those seven years when he'd been in the thrall of Runningdeer. He was a child. And he was a demigod. He was the favored child of the moonhawk, so he could do anything he wanted to anyone, anyone, and as he continued to drive, he fantasized about just what he might want to do ... and to whom.
Now and then he laughed softly and slightly shrilly, and his eyes gleamed like those of a cruel and twisted boy studying the effects of fire on captive ants.
As Moose padded around them and wagged his tail so hard it seemed in danger of flying off, Chrissie waited in the kitchen with Tessa and Sam until more light bled out of the dying day.
At last Sam said, "All right. Stay close. Do what I say every step of the way."
He looked at Chrissie and Tessa for a long moment before actually opening the door; without any of them speaking a word, they hugged one another. Tessa kissed Chrissie on the cheek, then Sam kissed her, and Chrissie returned their kisses. She didn't have to be told why they all suddenly felt so affectionate. They were people, real people, and expressing their feelings was important, because before the night was out they might not be real people any more. Maybe they wouldn't ever again feel the kinds of things real people felt, so those feelings were more precious by the second.
Who knew what those weird shape-changers felt? Who would want to know?
Besides, if they didn't reach Central, it would be because one of the search parties or a couple of the Boogeymen nailed them along the way. In that case this might be their last chance to say goodbye to one another.
Finally Sam led them onto the porch.
Carefully, Chrissie closed the door behind them. Moose didn't try to get out. He was too good and noble a dog for such cheap stunts. But he did stick his snout in the narrowing crack, sniffing at her and trying to lick her hand, so she was afraid she was going to pinch his nose. He pulled back at the last moment, and the door clicked shut.
Sam led them down the steps and across the yard toward the house to the south of Harry's. No lights were on there. Chrissie hoped no one was home, but she figured some monstrous creature was at one of the dark windows right now, peering out at them and licking its chops.
The rain seemed colder than when she'd been on the run last night, but that might have been because she had just come out of the warm, dry house. Only the palest gray glow still illuminated the sky to the west. The icy, slashing droplets seemed to be tearing the last of that light out of the clouds and driving it into the earth, pulling down a deep, damp darkness. Before they had even reached the fence separating Harry's property from the next, Chrissie was grateful for the hooded nylon windbreaker, even though it was so big on her that it made her feel as if she was a little kid playing dress-up in her parents' clothes.
It was a picket fence, easy to clamber over. They followed Sam across the neighbor's backyard to another fence. Chrissie was over that one, too, and into yet another yard, with Tessa close behind her, before she realized they had reached the Coltranes' place.
She looked at the blank windows. No lights on here, either, which was a good thing, because if there had been lights, that would mean someone had found what was left of the Coltranes after their battle with Sam.
Crossing the yard toward the next fence, Chrissie was overcome by the fear that the Coltranes had somehow reanimated themselves after Sam had fired all of those bullets into them, that they were standing in the kitchen and looking out the windows right this minute, that they had seen their nemesis and his two companions, and that they were even now opening the back door. She expected two robot-things to come clanking out with metal arms and working massive metal hands, sort of like tin versions of the walking dead in old zombie movies, miniature radar-dish antennae whirling around and around on their heads, steam hissing from body vents.
Her fear must have slowed her, because Tessa almost stumbled into her from behind and gave her a gentle push to urge her along. Chrissie crouched and hurried to the south side of the yard.
Sam helped her over a wrought-iron fence with spearlike points on the staves. She would probably have gored herself if she'd had to scale it alone. Chrissie shishkebab.
People were home at the next house, and Sam took refuge behind some shrubbery to study the lay of things before continuing. Chrissie and Tessa quickly joined him there.
While clambering over the last fence, she'd rubbed the abraded palm of her left hand, even though it was bandaged. It hurt, but she gritted her teeth and made no complaint.
Parting the branches of what appeared to be a mulberry bush, Chrissie peered at the house, which was only twenty feet away. She saw four people through the kitchen windows. They were preparing dinner together. A middle-aged couple, a gray-haired man, and a teenage girl.
She wondered if they had been converted yet. She suspected not, but there was no way to be sure. And since the robots and Boogeymen sometimes hid in clever human disguises, you couldn't trust anyone, not even your best friend ... or your parents. Pretty much the same as when aliens were taking over.
"Even if they look out, they won't see us," Sam said. "Come on."
Chrissie followed him from the cover of the mulberry bush and across the open lawn toward the next property line, thanking God for the fog, which was getting denser by the minute.
Eventually they reached the house at the end of the block. The south side of that lawn fronted the cross street, Bergenwood Way, which led down to Conquistador.
When they were two-thirds of the way across the lawn, less than twenty feet from the street, a car turned the corner a block and a half uphill and started down. Following Sam's lead, Chrissie threw herself flat on the soggy lawn because there was no nearby shrubbery behind which to take refuge. If they tried to scramble too far, the driver of the approaching car might get close enough to spot them while they were still scuttling for cover.
No streetlamps flanked Bergenwood, which was in their favor. The last of the ashen light was gone from the western sky—another boon.
As the car drew nearer, moving slowly either because of the bad weather or because its occupants were part of a patrol, its headlights were diffused by the fog, which seemed not to be reflecting that light but glowing with a radiance of its own. Objects in the night for yards on both sides of the car were half revealed and weirdly distorted by those slowly churning, ground-hugging, luminous clouds.